During each two-and-a-half hour show on Paul McCartney's first tour since 1976, his warmth and natural showmanship -- a blend of personality, 25 years of hit songs, and musicianship -- convert the sold-out arena crowd from an expectant-but-"show-me" audience to a frenzied throng. That should inspire confidence in anyone. That's onstage.
But when it comes time to write and record a new song, there's always that uncertainty factor: After so many years of turning out a stream of catchy tunes and creating some of the most influential bass lines in pop music, is there still magic waiting to be brought forth? Every time he sits down to write, and every time he plugs in the bass, it's back to square one.
Yeah, he was a Beatle. Yeah, he's incredibly famous. And, yeah, he's likely more successful than any player in history. But above all else, he's a musician, and like any of his peers -- famous or not -- past accomplishments are no guarantee of future success. Paul's had ups and downs, and to most people it would seem that being in the world's biggest band would be a virtually impossible act to follow. When the Beatles broke up, he could have walked away from the music business, and who would have blamed him? There's just one catch: This man loves music. At 48, he's leading his latest band with the enthusiasm characteristic of players half his age. From the minute he hits the stage for an afternoon soundcheck until the last note of the evening's encore, he's into it.
Before he had money, fame, or even a decent guitar, Paul McCartney was digging Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino, tapping into rock and roll to inspire his budding writing, singing, and playing abilities. Those influences are a strong part of early Beatles music, the propulsive force behind the Fab Four -- Paul, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. But as time passed, Paul's songwriting and playing evolved dramatically, becoming practically a genre unto themselves, almost as far removed from Chuck Berry as from Beethoven or Bach.
Despite decades of evolution, McCartney never lost touch with his roots. He returned to them for Back in the U.S.S.R, a 1988 album on which he covered '50s gems by his early heroes (the album was released only in the U.S.S.R.). During the jams that culminated in the LP, Paul also started playing guitar in a band, something he hadn't done since long before the Beatles conquered the world. Of course, he hadn't given it up all these years: He picked guitar in the studio with the Beatles and Wings, as well as on solo recordings. However, he'd almost always appeared onstage with either his violin-shaped Hofner or his Rickenbacker 4001 bass.
Besides picking up the guitar again, Paul -- at the insistence of new songwriting partner Elvis Costello -- dusted off the old Hofner that had been in hibernation since the Beatles did "Get Back" on Apple Studios' rooftop for Let it Be in 1969. He applied it to Costello's "Veronica" on 1988's Spike.
For 1989's Flowers in the Dirt, McCartney used a variety of guitars, including his old Hofner friend and his new 5-string Wal. Partly as a result of the Flowers sessions, partly as a fallout from the U.S.S.R. album, and partly as an outgrowth of weekly jam sessions, a new band evolved, featuring McCartney (on bass, guitar, piano, and vocals), his wife Linda (keyboards and backing vocals), Chris Whitten (drums), Hamish Stuart (guitar, bass, piano, and backing vocals), Robbie McIntosh (guitar and vocals), and Paul Wickens (keyboards). Since last year, McCartney and band have played to packed stadiums all over the world (including a 150,000-person venue in Rio De Janeiro in April), and by the time you read this, they will be embarking on yet another leg of their tour.
Although you obviously didn't abandon guitar altogether with the Beatles, did you ever feel that you had hopelessly locked yourself in the role of bassist?
It's funny, actually. I have problems with one of the books that has been written about us, because the guy obviously didn't like me. That's fair enough. But this guy started to make up a whole story of how I was so keen to be the bass player that I really did a number on Stuart Sutcliff, the original bass player. He made it sound as if I had planned this whole thing to become the Beatles bass player. I remember ringing George up shortly after this book came out, and I asked him, "Do you remember me really going hard to chuck Stu out of the group and be a bass player?" And he said, "No, you got lumbered with bass, man. None of us would do it." I said, "Well, that's how I remembered it." Because it's true: We all wanted to be guitar players.
Do you have any favorite guitar parts that you played with the Beatles?
I liked "Taxman" just because of what it was. I was very inspired by Jimi Hendrix. It was really my first voyage into feedback. I had this friend in London, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, who used to play me a lot of records late at night -- he was a kind if DJ-type guy. You'd go back to his place, and he's sit you down, give you a drink, and say, "Just check this out." He'd go over to his deck, and for hours he'd blast you with B.B. King, Eric Clapton -- he was sort of showing me where all of Eric's stuff was from, you know. He gave me a little evening's education in that. I was turned on after that and I went and bought an Epiphone. So then I could wind up with the Vox amp and get some nice feedback. It was just before George was into that. In fact, I don't think George did get too heavily into that kind of thing. George was generally a little more restrained in his guitar playing. He wasn't into heavy feedback.
So, even hearing Jimi Hendrix and John Mayall's records didn't make you think that you should give up bass to pursue guitar?
Not really, no. I'd always felt that the bass thing was really it, because we had to have a bass player. At the very beginning, I did think, "Well that's put shot to any plans I had of being a guitar player." But I got interested in bass as a lead instrument. I think around the time of Sgt. Pepper -- "With a Little Help from my Friends" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" -- there were some pretty good bass lines. Like Motown. Like Brian Wilson's lines in the Beach Boys. So, it was okay by the time I came to do that. But with "Taxman," I got the guitar and was playing around in the studio with the feedback and stuff, and I said to George, "Maybe you could play it like this." I can't quite remember how it happened that I played it, but it was probably one of those times when somebody says, "Well, why don't you do it then?"
Rather than spend the time teaching someone else?
Rather than spend the time to get the idea over. And I don't think George was too miffed. But when people say, "Great solo on 'Taxman'," I don't think he's too pleased to have to say, "Well, that was Paul, actually." I didn't really do much like that -- just once or twice. I also kind of liked the part I did on "Blackbird" on acoustic; that was one of my favorites.
How did you react when, in the late '60s, a new breed of lead bassists such as Jack Bruce and John Entwistle emerged?
I thought it was quite interesting. To me, it depends who you're talking about, and what record, but often I thought it was too busy. I often thought it was like the bass as lead guitar, and I don't think it makes as nice a noise as lead guitar. It's sort of like speed merchants. I've never been one. I remember reading where someone said that someone's the fastest bass player ever, and I thought, "Big deal." You know, there used to be a guy in Britain -- I think he's still around -- called Bert Weedon, who used to come onto the children's TV programs. He used to say, "I'm now going to play 1,000 notes in a minute." And then he'd get one string and go dididididid and play up and down, hitting it very, very fast. It was quite funny, actually. It's one thing to be fast, but that's short-lived. I think I'd rather be melodic. I'd rather have content than just speed.
Any favorite bass players or guitarists today?
I like Stanley Clarke. We only really met once, and just had a bit of fun in Montserrat. And he played on a couple of tracks. I admitted to him, "Hey, I'm trying to steal your licks, man!" He said, "Oh, you've got licks of your own." So, we just had a bit of fun. I decided not to steal his licks after all; he was right. He's got his style; I've got my style. And he's a great guy. I like Eddie Van Halen as a player. He gets it right quite often. I like a lot of heavy metal guys because they wind it up. What I usually like in a heavy metal band is the guitar player. But when it's just miles of scales, I lose interest. I like some of the hot sounds. And I also like David Gilmour. I think Clapton is real good, particularly these days. But I still like Hendrix the best.
Have you ever had any doubts about your playing?
Definitely. Often. Probably every time I've done a bass part. I have some self doubts because I think, "Oh, my God; I've made so many records. How am I going to make this sound fresh?" But if you're lucky, you just get a little thing, like, you know, in "Rain." Where there's this sort of high stuff. Then you go, "Ooh, I've got it!" And the rest of the part flows because you've got something to feel special about. "Paperback Writer" -- there's something. Or the lines that I discovered in "With a Little Help from My Friends." And what gets rid of the self-doubt is just plugging at it, and finding something to sort of release myself with.
On guitar do you mostly fingerpick or flatpick?
I normally use a flatpick. John learned, I think I read recently, off Donovan or one of Donovan's friends who were more into the folk thing, so they would fingerpick in the proper way, first string, third string, and all that -- the proper thing. I got my own little sort of cheating way of doing it, so on "Blackbird" I'm actually sort of pulling two strings all the time. But then, when it gets to the little fingerpicking sort of thing, it's not real. I figured, anyway, that everyone else was doing that correct stuff, so it wouldn't hurt.
It certainly doesn't sound like strum, strum, strum.
No, it's more like fingerpicking. I kind of liked it. I was trying to emulate those folk players. John was the only one who actually stuck at it and learned it. If you listen to "Julia," he's playing properly with fingerpicking on that. I was always quite proud of the lad. I think he just had a friend who showed him, and that's a really nice part on "Julia." But I could never be bothered, really, learning things. You know, I'm a great learner. I always sort of figure something out. Like, I've never had guitar lessons, bass lessons, piano lessons, music-writing lessons, songwriting lessons, or horse-riding lessons, for that matter, or painting -- I do some of that. I always jump into things, and so by the time I'm ready for my first lesson, I'm beyond it. I always did try to have music lessons. I always tried to have someone teach me to notate music, because I still don't know to this day.
You're doing okay.
But I figure I'm doing okay, yeah [laughs]. I tried when I was a kid, and I just couldn't get it -- it just didn't seem like nice fun to me. It seemed like hard work. I tried piano lessons when I was 16, but then I'd already written "When I'm 64" -- the melody of it, anyway. And so the guy taking me back to five-finger exercises was really just hell, it was torturing me. I'd been plunking around on little chords, and I had a little bass line. So I never got on with that. And it was the same with everything -- like I say, fingerpicking or anything else. I've always just sort of busked it and learned, and I enjoyed the accident.
You're doing a lot more guitar now, including part of the album that was only released in the U.S.S.R. Did you suddenly feel that you could get up and play a set of rock and roll without restraint?
Well, the thing is, it's brilliant because you see these kids nowadays playing air guitar. When I look at them I go, "Ooh, I know just what you mean!" Guitars are like that, aren't they? They're beautiful! Kids can even play them without their guitar and get a vibe. So, I happened to see an old blues guy on T.V. in England, and he said, "Well, man, I've been playing this guitar 20 years now," and I started to think how long I'd been playing. And it was longer, you know. When you hear a blues guy say he's been playing 20 years, it sounds like he's paid his dues, there's heritage. I'd never thought about how long I've been playing. I've been playing longer than 20! God, I'm qualified, therefore. I've kind of got my license to fly. And so if kids are into air guitars, well, I think I might just plug it in and do the same thing as they're doing and have some fun with it -- not worry about it, and just go for it. And so that's kind of what I do now. I know what I like to hear. I try to keep it simple because I'm not the world's fastest or anything, and like I say, I've never practiced scales in my life, so I couldn't do some of these heavy metal runs. I figure a lot of that is just because the guys are properly trained, and that's what they've learned -- scales. Some of it, I think, is, well, boring. Some of it is just endless scales. But probably why I like some of the heavy metal thing is because it's the guitar that generally turns me on.
You used fuzz bass very early. Was it a sort of substitute for playing guitar?
I love fuzz bass. Yeah, it helps you be a bit more lyrical because it makes the notes linger, gives you a bit more sustain. That used to really turn the whole thing around.
The Rickenbacker bass seemed to do that without the fuzz.
Well, the thing now is that the new fuzzes are not quite as good as the old fuzzes were. The technology's changed. And there were a lot of primitive things that we used to use in the Beatles -- prehistoric machines. One of my theories about sound nowadays is that the machines back then were more fuck-upable. I'm not sure if that's in the dictionary. But they were more destructible. You could actually make a desk [recording console] overload, whereas now they're all made so that no matter what idiot gets on them, they won't overload. Most of the old equipment we used, you could get to really surprise you. Now a brand-new desk is built for idiots like us to trample on. We used to do a great trick with acoustic guitars, like on "Ob La Di, Ob La Da." I played acoustic on that, an octave above the bass line. It gave a great sound -- like when you have two singers singing in octaves, it really reinforces the bass line. We got them to record the acoustic guitars in the red. The recording engineers said, "Oh my God! This is going to be terrible!" We said, "Well, just try it." We had heard mistakes that happened before that and said, "We love that sound. What's happening?" And they said, "That's because it's in the red." So we recorded slammin' it in the red. And these old boards would distort just enough, and compress and suck. So instead of going [imitates staccato "Ob La Di" riff] dink dink dink dink, it just flowed. So, a new fuzz box just won't go as crazy as an old one would. And it does make it all a little bit cleaner, which I'm not wild on, actually. I'm a big fan of blues records and stuff, where there's never a clean moment. Nothing was ever clean. It was always one old, ropey mike stuck somewhere near the guitar player, and you could hear his foot more than some things.
So I was able to get back into playing guitar with Hamish in the band. I was able to get back to one of my dreams. And Linda was a big fan of my guitar playing, whereas I've got my doubts. I think there are proper guitar players and then there are guys like me who love playing it, but we haven't played it for 20 years. But what's nice about that is that since I haven't been playing for 20 years, I haven't run out of ideas. I haven't actually tried half of my ideas on guitar yet. So this tour has given me a chance now, with Hamish, to open up. I'm actually playing some solos and getting more comfortable with electric -- because I do love it. I do have quite a good feel on it, but I haven't got 20-year-old chops -- I mean 20 years of playing, not a 20-year-old person [laughs].
You've got a good sound
Yeah, it's alright. And it's slightly different. I notice Lou Reed playing guitar now, and I think it's the same kind of thing. You suddenly realize, "Jesus, I started off as a guitar player." I've been playing longer than some dudes around. Maybe I can do it. And you just get rid of this bass-player mentality for a few numbers, and it's great.
Meaning you play a little lighter on guitar?
It depends. I like the real sort of dirty stuff.
Why did you choose a Les Paul for this tour instead of, say, a Stratocaster?
I've got a Strat, actually -- I've got a large collection of guitars. It's really just because it performs very well. I tried a couple of guitars. But onstage like this, because I'm new to this particular experience, I wanted something that I knew was great. And I know Les Pauls are great. I wanted something reliable. And I know you can get subtle tones and subtle combinations of sounds, but I don't need that. I only need, like, bing, bing, bing -- three tones. And I'll only use two: treble pickup and bass pickup. And I hardly ever use the bass, although sometimes I flick it on and hit the distortion pedal, and I get a nice, sort of Isley Brothers sound. It seems to sustain better with the bass pickup. It's really good fun for me.
Do you ever just sit around at home and tweak your amp to explore its tones?
I do that mainly in the studio, which is almost like home. I can go in and just goof, and sometimes I just work on guitar sounds. I can get a nice clean sound fairly easily. It's the pumped-up sounds that I like to experiment with. I've got one of the old Vox AC30s that Jeff Beck used to call "the old Beatle bashers." I once asked him if he used them, and he said, "What? Those old Beatle bashers?" Then he realized what he'd said [laughs]. But I love the sound of them; I actually love the straight sound. It's pokey. It's not too clean. I'm not a big fan of clean in rock and roll. It's funny, in a way, because I guess I've got a reputation for being a fairly clean rock and roller. But my taste doesn't extend that way.
If you really want a clean sound, you can always go acoustic.
Yeah. Or, [whispers] you can just turn down. That's the perfect way to get clean. But that's no fun at all! This is Back to the Future, guys. You want a whole wall of this stuff. So, yeah. I sit around and experiment with pedals, too.
Have you ever gone on an equipment-buying spree?
Occasionally. My first Epiphone was one of them, where I just went down to a guitar shop after having heard B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, and I wanted something that fed back. He said, "This Epiphone will do it, because it's semi-acoustic." And he was right. The only reason I don't use it onstage is because it's a little too hot. It's great in the studio. You've got to stand in the right position for it not to feed back -- we always had to do that in the studio, but nowadays guitars don't do this.
That's a right-handed guitar, isn't it?
Yeah, it's right-handed, but I play left -- I had the nut changed.
Do you run your picking arm into the knobs all the time?
Yeah, but that's all I know. It was only much later in my career when I got the luxury of having it my way 'round. You know, I'm kind of used to playing what we call in Liverpool cac-handed. Spell that as you will; nobody's done it yet. Or, gammy-handed, which is what they also call left-handed people.
How did you get this band together?
We started during the making of Flowers in the Dirt. First of all, I wanted to play live, because I was in the studio every day doing bits and pieces. And the easiest thing to do was have a jam once a week -- invite a few people, see who shows up. The original idea was to have a kind of thing where anyone who wanted to showed up. But that started to get a little too inexact, because one week you might have no one show up, or you might have 50 people show up. So we invited people to a Friday-evening jam, and each week we had a different lineup of people. Basically, when I'm jamming, I just run through all the old rock and roll numbers that I know. So that's songs like "Lucille," "Matchbox," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "Bring it on Home" -- you know, all those kinds of standards. And the drummer who always stood out was Chris. He wasn't too set in his ways.
[Laughs.] Well, we're talking drummers here, and if you get a drummer who's absolutely set in his ways, sometimes you'll get one who'll say, "I can't play to that." So you need someone who's a little bit flexible. He's young enough not to be set in his ways, and good enough to hold a good, strict tempo. Younger guys normally have trouble with things like shuffles. They're not from those times. People like Ringo have an automatic shuffle -- it's part of his repertoire. It's like a gear he can go into. And I know from the little bit of drumming I do that a shuffle is pretty hard to do -- to get a nice loose shuffle. Apparently, Chris was nervous as all hell, and it was the worst day of his life. But he played great anyway, so we invited him back, and he became a regular. I decided to do some recording from those, because the jams were feeling good and we were building up a loose repertoire. So we did what became the album that was released exclusively in Russia.
Was it your original plan to release an album at that stage?
Originally, it was just going to be jams. Then the next move was, "These are sounding good, man. You should record 'em." So we went down to my studio for two days, and did 18 songs the first day. It was, like, unheard-of; I'm sure no one will ever try that, but it's actually great fun. We got a lot done, and out of it we had some pretty good stuff -- you surprise yourself with it. So we did that for two days. The second day was a different lineup, and each time we spent five minutes on each song. And in the end, we had quite a nice selection of rock and roll stuff. I said, "Well, look. I'm not really happy to release this as my next album."
It wouldn't show all sides of you very well, since you are also a songwriter.
Well, actually, I wasn't really looking at that side of it. It just seemed like unfinished work, just jams. It was just like looning around at home. But then people said, "What's this? It sounds fresh; it's spontaneous." We wanted to pretend the Russians had done a bootleg in London. And we were going to manufacture some records as bootlegs, and say, "Look at this! It's a Russian bootleg of some secret McCartney tapes." But then the record company and my manager said, "No, you can't do that in your position," and all that. I said we could have done that when we were starting out. They said, "Yeah, but things are different now." So I said, [with mock sneer] "Oh, you bunch of wimps! I hate you. You're so predictable." I really was quite disappointed by it. I thought it was a brilliant idea. And risky! That's what I liked about it, that element of fun, electricity.
But then my manager, who also was disappointed that we couldn't do it, came back later and said we should do something with it. So we decided to come out with it exclusively in Russia, and nowhere else. That had never been done. It's a great glasnost thing. And it was the first gold disk to come out of Russia. So then it was time to get on with my proper studio album, Flowers in the Dirt, and I wanted somebody to work with on guitar and singing. So, one way or another, we knew that Hamish was not doing a lot -- well, he was writing and he had just gotten into a minor record deal in L.A. with a band that the record label had put together. We figured he was committed to it, but that he might be persuaded to do something else with us.
Did it take heavy persuasion?
Yeah, you know, we had to break his knees [laughs]. So, he came along, and we just goofed around in the studio for a day, and we made up a track, just to see how he could work in a spontaneous situation, rather than audition him. Because I think it's rather embarrassing to do an audition, when you're talking about fully grown musicians who have had careers. You can't audition them. It's humiliating. So we made up a song, and I was really impressed with the way Hamish harmonized with anything I did. He was really listening to what I was doing, and our voices blended nicely. He played good guitar, and I noticed that he also played good bass. If I wanted to play guitar on this tour, I needed someone who could handle bass, so Hamish was in. He, Chris, and I were the backbone of the album.
Linda came in to do harmonies; she, Hamish, and I blended well. I've heard a lot of flack in the past from people who have said, "Well, she's untrained. How come she's in?" And I say, "Look, man, you name me any decent group, and hardly any of them are trained." Everything from your roots, everything you love -- like the Shagri-Las -- has that ballsy thing. I'd much rather have that. I did, once or twice, try some bona fide session singers, but they were so professional that I didn't enjoy myself. It was on. It was in tune. But, I hate to say, I just didn't really like the noise that came out. I asked her if she wanted to join the band, to go through the rigors of getting out on the road again, and she was up for it.
Then we were looking for a guitar player. And I'm very fussy about guitar players. I go back too far to be satisfied easily. I knew Jimi Hendrix when he was playing in London, and I was a major, major fan. In fact, he still is my favorite guitar player -- just through his whole attitude and his playing. I mean, I like attitude, but it's no good unless you can play. In fact, some of the attitude kinds of things, like picking with his teeth, Jimi didn't really want to do. It was just show, and he got fed up with that very quickly because he was a real proper guitar player. He played lovely acoustic, too. He was the first guy to really wind it up, to get into heavy feedback. I caught his first gig in London, and I used to follow him around London, like a fan. It's a very small area, and people would ring me up and say, "Jimi's playing at Blazes tonight" or at the Bag O' Nails -- and I was there.
One of my greatest memories was that we released Sgt. Pepper's on Friday night, and on Sunday night Jimi was playing at the Savile Theatre, which Brian Epstein used to run, just for something to do on a Sunday night. There was never any entertainment on for Sunday night, so Brian began to book people in, like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. And we could go into a little, special box, and not be bothered, and we could watch all these great acts. So Jimi came on, and he opened up with Sgt. Pepper's, which had only been released on Friday. That was a great, great memory. Since then, I've seen people like Clapton, who I admire a lot, and David Gilmour. And there's just something there about what I'd call a real guitar player. They hold the instrument right, they play it right. They have the right attitude about it, and they've got something individual that each one of them that's special brings to it. In the jams, I suppose I was mildly disappointed that I never really found the guitarist who really blew me off my feet -- although there were some really good players. Johnny Marr showed up, and we had a great time. The kind of guy I was looking for was more of a Hendrix type, where Johnny's more of a rhythm guitarist cum lead. All these guys were brilliant.
Robbie eventually showed up for a session to do a bit of overdubbing, and Chrissie Hynde, who he's worked for previously with the Pretenders, had said to Linda, "Robbie would be a great guitarist for you guys. He's Beatles-mad." He knows all the Beatles repertoire; in fact, I reckon he knows it better than me. He's one of the guys who knows all the solos. He learned them all as a kid; he's just that much younger than me. He was a fan when he started out. So, I was impressed -- and I think we were all impressed with each other's sense of humor by that time. So it got kind of like, "Well, there's no sense in bustin' this crowd up."
Eventually Wix [Paul Wickens], who was a friend of Robbie's, came along. He was a session man cum producer and a keyboard wiz. We figured we needed someone who was really up on sampling if we weren't going to take out brass or strings. He's more than that, but can cover that angle. So Wix came in as more of a computer/keyboard wiz, and Linda was happy to take a kind of second keyboard chair. That's what she's happier with. The kind of music she likes is simpler. She's not a great jazz fan, for instance; she wouldn't like a solo because it has a million notes in it. Like me, she's a big fan of Jimi Hendrix. She's into sound. It has to sound right for her -- which I really dig. I think that's really right. Sometimes a guy can play no notes at all, and sound incredible.
So that's the band, anyway. And, between us, we all had this silly sense of humor. We kept looking for a name for the band, and couldn't decide on anything. Lumpy Trousers was the consensus everyone came up with, but we ended up not naming it anyway. So the tour took my name, which seemed like the best idea at the time.
Did you work up much of the music with the band before recording?
No, it was just like a regular studio album, with guys coming in to play. We didn't play very much of it live. We played the backing tracks live. But the band wasn't assembled as a whole for the album; it was just me, Hamish, and Chris for backing tracks. Linda came in later for vocal overdubs, and Robbie and Wix came in for sessiony overdubs -- sweetening and little rhythm parts and solos. So we haven't actually made an album with this band, the first one will be the live album from this tour. So that was sort of exciting. And I'm really looking forward to the next studio album with this band, because I think we'll write stuff and then rehearse it like we do at soundchecks.
This is the first permanent band you've had since Wings disbanded in 1976.
It's the first sort of definite band, yeah. You know, after the Beatles, anyone could be forgiven for saying, "Well, that's it. I've been in a band." I heard Brian May of Queen say, "You're only ever in one great band." I kind of know what he means, spiritually, but I think I've been really lucky. The '76 lineup was real good -- with little Jimmy McCulloch. Strange little lineup, but a magic one. I'm very excited about this band, because it's pretty musical. We can sort of go anywhere with it, which is very interesting, and a little bit daunting, because if you can go anywhere, where do you go? It's like going on holiday: If you've got the power to go anywhere, you're really stuck for choices. But I'm not really worried about that, because I've got a pretty firm direction of where I want to go with the next stuff, so I'll try that out and see what comes of it.
Do you like having someone full-time who can pick up, say, bass if you want to play guitar?
Yeah. That was one of the big attractions of Hamish. He's interested in bass -- not just as a minor instrument; he's quite into it. I started on acoustic guitar, and I played Hamburg on guitar, and all. As I said, when it got busted I had to switch to piano. Which was quite good, because I'd had a piano at home. My dad was a good pianist, but not trained. Like I've picked it up, he picked it up; he learned it by ear. I used to say to him, "Teach me some of your stuff." And he said, "No, you've got to learn properly." He felt he wasn't good enough to teach me, which was okay, actually. I just did what he did; I emulated him and just picked things up that I heard off records. We all sort of started with middle C, found the chord of C, found F and found G, and then we found Am, and then the rest of it -- got into all the augmented and that sort of stuff as we went along.
So, I never really got to go back to guitar, except for the odd solo with the Beatles, where I'd do odd little things, like "Taxman." "Tomorrow Never Knows," I played stuff there. "Paperback Writer," I played the riff on that. Then there were the acoustic things, like "Yesterday" and "Blackbird."
You played with Carl Perkins on "Get It" [from the album Tug of War]. How did you two get together?
I rang him up, and he was in the States playing clubs. We met him in the very early days with the Beatles, and he was a good old friend, such a down-home boy. I love Carl -- he's so great. I'll tell you a story about Carl; I don't think he'll mind me telling this. We were recording at Montserrat, and a musician friend was sailing around the world on a yacht -- a bit of a tax dodge, I think [laughs] -- and he sailed into Montserrat, and came to see us. He invited us to his boat. There was this British naval crew piping us aboard this spotless yacht. Carl was really impressed with the buffet and the champagne, and the way it was all laid out. He came over to me and said, "Paul, where I come from they call this shittin' in high cotton." It's one of my favorite expressions. After that, we recorded "Get It." At the end of the song, you can hear both of us laughing -- and that's the joke we're laughing at. We had to cut the joke out, though, because we'd have never gotten it played on the radio.
Did you both play guitar on that song?
Yeah, I just played a little bit, and Carl played a rhythm part. The fun tended to come when we had a free moment. He and I sat on the floor of the studio, and we were talking, and there was a mic on. I was just telling him about some of his old songs that we loved, like "Lend me Your Comb" and "Your True Love." I told him we were big fans of his and we used to do "Your True Love." Then we'd sing together. Then we'd stop, and he'd say, "Well, you know, Paul, I used to do this," and he'd show me some fingerpicking thing he used to do.
Back in the early days of the Beatles, you did "Matchbox" and other songs by Carl Perkins. Were you awed to meet someone who, to you, was a legend?
Absolutely. Anyone who was a legend in our formative years is still a legend. I haven't grown out of that. Carl is still the guy who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes," and he can never do any wrong. It only took one guy to do that, and he did it. Elvis recorded it and beat his version, but, still, Carl wrote it. There's some magic stuff. We used to love those early albums -- very primitive, very simple, but just such soul. Carl has lovely stories about how he was taught by an old black gentleman [John Westbrook], and he speaks of him with great reverence. It's very nice to hear. He said, "You know, Paul, I used to pick cotton in the field, and when we had a break, we'd sit down and this old black gentleman would show me some of his licks." It was very exciting for us kids to hear that. We'd grown up in a kind of urban world, and we didn't really know about that stuff. He's still an idol.
Little Richard was another idol. And, in the same way, the magic didn't fade any when we met him. He's great -- wacky. He always gives me a bit of fun: Whenever he does an interview, he looks into the camera and says, "Now, Paul, you know I taught you how to do that woooooooo." It's true; he did! He says it like I don't admit it, but I admit it quite happily. In fact, the first thing I ever did, showbiz-wise, was at the end of term, when on the last day of school you'd have a bit of a blowout. All the kids would party around, and there wasn't a lot of work, and the teachers were too busy cleaning the desks and getting out of there. I remember standing on a desk in Cliff Edge's room -- his real name was W. Edge, the history master -- and we used to like him because he was a bit looser than some of the other teachers. Anyway, I was standing on the desk -- it was like a scene out of an old rock and roll movie -- and I was clapping and singing "Tutti Frutti" like Little Richard, and all the guys in the class were going, "Yeah!" and rockin' around.
I still owe a great debt to Little Richard and a lot of those guys, just because they turned us on. It's something when people turn you on, something I don't think you ever forget. It's so deep when you're young, too. The turn-on, when you're younger, is so intense. It burns itself into your soul, hearing "That'll Be the Day" and "Heartbreak Hotel" and "What'd I Say?" They burned themselves into my being.
And you can't get them out?
I wouldn't want to get them out, ever. That's something I'm really proud to have burned into my soul, branded in me.
John Hammel on Paul's Guitars
John Hammel has worked with Paul McCartney for the past 15 years. Here he takes us backstage to rummage through Paul's touring equipment.
"Paul's main stage guitar is a cherry sunburst 1960 Gibson Les Paul that we got from Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick. Paul loves it. What's great about it is that it has the type of neck that they quit using when they brought out the SG-type Les Pauls. It has a great feel. For a backup electric, he has a left-handed '57 goldtop Les Paul. It's quite rare. We got it from the Left-Hand Guitar Shop.
"His main acoustic is a black Alvarez, which Carl Perkins got for him. The guitar had a right-handed neck, and the dots were on the side facing away from Paul. Someone from Alvarez found out Paul was using one of their guitars, so they made two for the tour with the dots on the proper side. The second one is tuned down a whole-step for "Yesterday." The Alvarez doesn't have a soundhole, and it has a pickup built into the bridge. It has bass, treble, midrange, and master volume controls. You can turn it flat out, and there's no feedback. So for live work, my prayers are answered.
"The acoustic goes into an amp, and then the signal's sent to the P.A. If anything went wrong with the amp, it would still come out front and through Paul's monitors.
"Paul doesn't like his guitar strings too heavy. On the Les Paul, we have Ernie Balls, with a .009 on the high E and a .042 on the bottom. On the Alvarez, it's .010 -054 Ernie Ball Earthwood bronze strings.
"Other guitars we bring along include Paul's old D-28 Martin, which is a spare, and we have his 1964 Epiphone Casino, which is the guitar he used on "Taxman" with the Beatles. It's right-handed, with a Bigsby tremolo tailpiece. Of course, it's set up left-handed. We also had to redo the bridge so that the intonation would be correct.
"To amplify the guitars, we have two Mesa/Boogie Studio Preamps running through a Mesa/Boogie Strategy 295 power amp and into two 4x12 cabinets. Side A is for the electric guitar, and side B is for the acoustic guitar. There's a Pete Cornish unit for switching preamps and distortion on and off. Paul has one set of control pedals for it, and I have the other set offstage. My switcher has a mute button, so when Paul comes onstage, or when he changes guitars, I can cut the signal. Then there's a switch for selecting guitar or bass, and a switch that I can whack in or out for the Mesa/Boogie preamp. There's also a T.C. Electronic 1210 Spatial Expander/Stereo Chorus, which we only use for chorus on the electric."